97. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Intelligence Oversight Board (Farmer) to President Carter1


  • Use of Unwitting United States Persons in CIA Covert Action (S)

The Central Intelligence Agency has reported a question of propriety concerning the unwitting involvement of United States academics and other United States persons in a CIA operated covert system for distributing publications to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.2 The United States persons are provided, at no cost, publications they request for the purpose of mailing or personally delivering the publications to friends and acquaintances in the target countries. The United States persons are not informed that the organization providing the publications is a CIA proprietary operating under commercial cover. (S)

Neither the Director of Central Intelligence nor the members of the SCC knew of the unwitting involvement of United States persons when this covert action was reviewed and approved in June 1978. At our request, the DCI and the Chairman of the SCC have been informed. The SCC Chairman and the DCI believe that it is not necessary to change the modus operandi of the publication distribution proprietary. (S)

The other members of the SCC have not been informed that the covert action includes the unwitting use of United States persons. Under section 1–302 of Executive Order 12036, the SCC is required to consider and submit to the President a recommendation on proposed covert actions. The Board believes that the unwitting use of United States persons is a fact directly relevant to the SCC’s review of the covert action. That fact should have been brought to the attention of the SCC when the covert action proposal was first presented in 1978. (S)

The Board recommends that the matter be referred to the SCC for full consideration at this time. (U)3

  1. Source: National Security Council, Carter Intelligence Files, Intelligence Oversight Board, 3 Jun 1977–25 Jan 1979. Secret. Carter wrote at the top of the memorandum, “Zbig—Refer to SCC. J.”
  2. See Document 95.
  3. A covering memorandum from Brzezinski to Carter, July 16, outlines the conclusions of the SCC: “The IOB’s memorandum to you of July 3, 1979 on the role of unwitting U.S. persons in the book and publication distribution program to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union sponsored by CIA was presented to the SCC on July 13, 1979, as you instructed. The unanimous view of the Committee was that no change should be made in the manner in which this program is conducted.” Carter wrote “OK. J” beneath the paragraph.